Thorny road to success for online durian sellers
During the early days, there was a lot of wastage, but the circuit breaker helped them gain traction
Nothing was going to stop durian lover Mr Reece Lee from leaving the electronics industry to sell the king of fruits online.
When he made the move in December 2019, Mr Lee and his two partners did not know then that the online platform and delivery service would soon take on a prominent role in the food and beverage landscape here.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, Mr Lee, 33, said: "We just saw a potential in the digital space, one that could grow quickly and also reach out to more customers within a short period, so we dived right in."
He was a regular customer at Mr Lawrence Teo's durian stall and said with a laugh: "Somehow we clicked, and that was all it took for the start-up."
Durian Express Delivery was born, vowing to deliver orders to homes within 60 minutes.
Mr Lee manages the online part of the business, while Mr Teo, 40, handles the packaging and delivery aspects. Mr Teo's good friend, Mr Teoh See Sik, is the third partner.
Mr Teoh, 43, who had been selling durians for nearly 20 years in Singapore, takes care of the company's durian plantations in Muar, Malaysia.
"He is the quality controller," said Mr Lee.
It was not smooth-sailing at the start. Despite selling about 10 cultivars, Mr Lee said "not many people knew about us" as Durian Express Delivery was the new kid on the block. Even though they kept the supply from Muar conservative, there was still wastage.
"If we had a physical stall, we could still sell the leftover durians at below cost... so we gave them away to friends. But mostly, we had to throw them away because they are not something you can keep," said Mr Lee.
He was "a little scared at first", but the thought of giving up never crossed his mind.
Ironically, the pandemic and subsequent measures such as the circuit breaker offered a silver lining when pivoting online became the new strategy for food businesses.
Mr Lee scoured different social media platforms and began posting in various groups.
"People were staying at home and ordering delivery for everything," he said.
"New customers became recurring customers, and they would post favourable reviews and positive comments... more people got to know us better."
Things are looking up for Durian Express Delivery. It now has about 8,000 followers on its Facebook and Instagram accounts.
"We also introduced a loyalty program where members can use their accumulated points to get cash discounts off future orders," said Mr Lee.
Secrets of the trade
- Check for worm holes so as to ensure the fruit is not rotten or stale.
- Shake the durian and listen. If there is a firm sound, the fruit is usually dry and perfect for sale. Otherwise, it means a watery durian which indicates it is over- or under-ripe.
- Cultivation is an important process. For certain cultivars such as Black Gold, using the cut stem of an older durian tree allows it to grow better. This tip is not just for plantation owners, but for anyone who wants to try and cultivate durians.